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The backstory behind HEC and 42 radical experiment

I have recently talked to a few program directors or professors of Entrepreneurship in Business Schools and I heard some interesting stories, so I thought that for a change, I’d post some of them here, in between 2 new business ideas.

For this first one, let me introduce you to Stephane Madoeuf, the man who created this now iconic joint program between HEC, one of the leading business schools, and 42, a radical new kind of software engineering school created by Xavier Niel, legendary French entrepreneur (and yes, the name comes after The Hitchhiker Guide To The Galaxy).

So Stephane, how did this program start?

I created a startup during my schooling at HEC, and, as you can imagine, it was hell to run 2 busy lives. A few years later, when I took over HEC Digital Master Program, the situation got even worse: I wasn’t the odd one in a cohort willing to start a business anymore, but there were a dozen of students in a similar mind-set. However, staying on the Digital Master curriculum proved to be turning in a threat to their startup chances of success. Some almost had to drop out in their last year to run their startup. So it started like this: “Building a startup is very much a learning experience so why don’t we make this part of the curriculum?!”.

OK, so how did you do that?

My problem at the time was that the typical HEC student would just pitch their idea to raise Angel money in order to hire software engineers to start building their thing. That’s not really “lean startup” if you see what I mean!! So I reached out to 42 and asked if they would do an experiment with us: Would their students volunteer for a 1st cohort on a 10-week program, mixing engineering and commercial skills into small teams around a new business idea, and take it as far as they could?

And how did that go?

Incredibly well on many aspects: Just look at or Pandascore, which were created there! And internally, within HEC, it suddenly got a lot of attention. You see, I did this thing almost “below the radar” and, as it became successful, I got proper funding to run in the next years. Thanks to that, we could hire a full time program director, and build a network of about 100 part-time experts to challenge and support the teams. The 10-week cohort is now part of the official HEC Digital Master Program, and allow you to have your diploma (even if you fell your startup :)

It makes me think that a more traditional program director within an academic background may have asked for permission to start this and this may have never started! One last thing Stephane, what did you learn along the way? And how can people apply?

I found that people dynamics matter a lot, so to make sure newly formed teams wouldn’t crash down in flames, we now organise regular meetups before the program starts, to allow students to talk about their ideas and see if they like each other.

I see as well less of a divide between tech and commercial profiles. For example, I would say that 20% of our HEC students can code to some extent.

And regarding the application process, I just want to set the expectations right: We receive far more applications than places available. We require as well that at least one HEC student sits in the applicant group. however, if a team needs a specific skill for its project that we do not have at HEC or 42, they have the possibility to take an outside student.


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